Project Management for Beginners: Answers to 3 Common Questions
In this age of digital transformation, as company hierarchies continue to flatten, an increasing number of employees across all industries are finding themselves wearing the “project management hat,” whether they have a background in managing projects or not.
If you’ve just landed in a position where you are required to manage a team, processes, and activities, you might be wondering what you can do to pull off a successful project and embrace your new role. We’ve answered the three most common questions to help you get started.
1. What are Typical Project Management Activities?
Project management includes managing tasks, setting timelines, making assignments, and leading teams to accomplish goals that tie into the company's overall mission.
Project management expert Elizabeth Harrin says that in the past, project managers were given a project and expected to execute it. Now, they are more involved in coming up with strategies and ideas:
"Today, the role of the project manager has evolved somewhat, and you are likely to find yourself getting involved earlier and earlier in the project before it has even become a ‘project.'"
Project managers’ work usually consists of some foundational steps as they set up and oversee each project:
Determining the Scope of Work
Before any work on a new project starts, the project manager is responsible for determining the scope of work—what exactly the project will and will not include. To determine scope, you’ll need to talk with stakeholders to find out what their expectations are. You’ll also need to take into account company-wide goals to see how the project fits into the bigger picture, and to ensure that your work will be relevant and valuable.
Part of a project manager’s job is to avoid scope creep, which you can do by very clearly defining scope, using creative briefs, and getting buy-in from stakeholders so that everyone has the same expectations.
Assessing Available Resources
With your project scope in hand, you can determine if available resources will be adequate to accomplish your goals. Remember resources include things like team members, time, budget, software tools, and expertise.
Part of assessing your resources includes estimating costs and putting together a budget that accounts for everything in your project scope.
As you analyze resources, it’s essential that you get input from your team. The people who will be carrying out the project can give you the most in-depth and accurate information about what they can accomplish with the resources on hand.
Organizing timelines ensures that your team has enough time to do their best work and still make deadlines. But, creating an effective timeline involves more than just randomly picking days for benchmarks and arbitrarily putting tasks on a calendar.
You’ll need to organize tasks that are dependent on each other strategically, build in slack time, and allot time for feedback and approvals.
When your timelines and deadlines are already set, you can assign tasks to team members in a more deliberate way, ensuring that team members have the time to execute tasks and that they are the best person suited for the job.
When assigning tasks, consider using an operational system of record to help you organize tasks and team members, implement your timeline, and automate some administrative tasks.
Evaluating and Improving Processes
Project management also involves continuous evaluation so you can improve your processes and refine how your team works. Over time, you’ll get an idea of how best to tackle projects and what kind of information you need from requesters so you can initiate projects more quickly.
A project manager can also expect to spend time coordinating the project workload and workflows, managing the actual work, facilitating communication and collaboration between team members, producing project deliverables, and measuring projects' results.
2. What is a Project Management Methodology?
Project management methodologies are all about specifying the best way to initiate, plan, and execute projects. Waterfall and agile are two of the most prominent methodologies used:
- Waterfall methodology employs a sequential, top-down approach to project management with the goal of eliminating risk and uncertainty up front.
- Agile methodology has grown in popularity with its change-driven approach that gives teams the dynamic ability to quickly adapt to needed changes or course corrections.
It's important to consider each methodology carefully and choose the one that will help your team be most successful. Dr. Edward Wallington, senior project manager at Esri believes this kind of assessment is important:
“Don’t fall into the trap of using a certain approach ‘just because everyone else is.’ Take into account the type of project, resources available, and stakeholder experience.”
Since each project management methodology has its advantages, some project managers implement more of a hybrid approach with their teams, using the methodology that makes the most sense for the specific project being considered.
3. What Project Management System Best Fits My Needs?
Tools like email and spreadsheets aren’t meant to manage work on a larger, project-based scale and will eventually lead to significant inefficiencies, disorganization, miscommunications, and other problems.
The best practices of modern work management call for implementing an operational system of record that allows managers to get real-time updates, supports multiple methodologies, provides complete visibility into work, and makes approvals fast and easy.
Moira Alexander, a project management professional with more than 20 years of experience, suggests that beginner project managers consider current and future needs when they choose a project management tool:
"Future anticipated needs are always a consideration. Project management solutions should be scalable, yet not overbought or overbuilt with features and functionality that just aren't required."
Finding the right project management system will help your team get and stay organized and make managing projects more streamlined.
Project management is about being able to organize people and processes while managing resources to produce results that satisfy stakeholders and help the company reach its goals.